In the course of my travels, I had recently the opportunity to actually sit and complete the Year 9 NAPLAN Literacy test. I was surprised to the point where I assumed I had accidentally misread the title page; surely this was the Year 5 test? But, no, I had read correctly, and these questions that were apparently age appropriate for fifteen year olds were the types of things that I had learned at age ten and eleven.
I don’t subscribe to the popular theory that children, especially teenagers, are getting dumber. I know a lot of teenagers, and while many of them possess thought processes that are alien and incomprehensible to me, I don’t think that makes them any stupider than I was. I remember being a teenager; I vehemently arrived at many bizarre conclusions back then that I have since forgotten the logic behind.
I think the problem really lies with standardized testing. There is no way to create a test that can be administered fairly to all people, while still being read coldly by a machine – especially in language and literacy. The two risks that are run by standardized tests are the alienation of the high-achievers and that of the low-achievers in any given stream of academia. So, these tests generally aim for the low so that nobody gets their feelings hurt, and results in a side effect of tall poppy syndrome. Things get exacerbated when governments make the test results publically available, which means that teachers are encouraged to teach for the test; foregoing the previous approach of teaching knowledge that a test may or may not later ascertain or rank.
There is perhaps a place for standardized tests, but the focal point of education (and, frequently, teenagers’ lives) is not it, in my opinion. They can be a means to an end of getting broad statistical data, but not an accurate assessment of the thoughts, knowledge and intelligence of an individual human mind.